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Watch the Milky Way’s Black Hole Fling Stars at a Million Miles an Hour

These 'hypervelocity stars' were flagged by a neural network.

by Becky Ferreira
Jun 26 2017, 3:51pm

Six of the Milky Way's fastest stars have been clocked by software designed to imitate a human brain, according to news dropped by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Monday. You can watch these objects hurtling out into the galactic outskirts in the above simulation, which is based on observational data collected by ESA's Gaia space observatory, launched in 2013, a mission dedicated to building the largest 3D star map in history.

These "speeding stars" were catapulted into their madcap trajectories over a million years ago, after close encounters with our galaxy's supermassive black hole. One is traveling at over 500 kilometers/second, which is upwards of one million miles per hour, so fast that it is on track to be flung clear of the Milky Way's gravitational pull.

For comparison, our Sun moves along at a clip of 220 kilometer/second in its orbit around the central galactic hub, less than half as fast as these race-stars, while the average star speed is about 150 kilometers/second.

Gaia spotted these hypervelocity stars with the help of a neural network, which is a type of program inspired by the structure of neural organization in the human brain. The stars were flagged by the network from Gaia's epic catalogue, which has already logged the positions and magnitudes of over one billion celestial objects. ESA scientists then reverse-engineered the stellar trajectories over the past million years, shedding light on the mysterious gravitational mechanics of the Milky Way.

Read More: Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies Apparently Launch 'Spitballs' at Each Other

"These are stars that have travelled great distances through the galaxy but can be traced back to its core, an area so dense and obscured by interstellar gas and dust that it is normally very difficult to observe," commented Leiden University astrophysicist Elena Maria Rossi, who co-authored the new research, at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Prague on Monday.

"These hypervelocity stars are extremely important to study the overall structure of our Milky Way," Rossi said.

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